"He who despises his neighbor sins, but blessed is he who is kind to the needy" (Proverbs 14:21).
We can commit all kinds of loving acts while not truly loving those we do those acts for. For instance, I could be a politician loving someone for the purely selfish reason of getting their vote. A doctor helping someone because of the money. A family member helping someone out of obligation. Or a rich person giving to the poor to clear my conscience. In cases like these, love can become a legalistic action to either earn our salvation, make us feel good about ourselves, or give us some personal gain.
Genuine love starts in the heart. It overflows from a life of love. If we do not have a heart that wants to love our neighbor, then any discussion that we might have on how to use our possessions and love others will just be an exercise in legalism. It is tough to find authentic love in a world of selfishness, but let's look at the way we love ourselves. That seems pretty authentic.
If we are hungry, we get ourselves a meal to eat. Most often, we feed ourselves something that we really love. If we are cold, we buy a nice coat, gloves, a hat, and a scarf to keep ourselves warm. If we are adventurous, we take a nice vacation to a place that we have never been before. If we like routine, we take a nice vacation to a place we have been many times before. Whatever the case, we spend a lot of money to spend a week or two away from our normal life. If we are bored, we buy new video games, books, music, or whatever our entertainment of choice is. If we need a place to sleep, we usually spend as much money as we can possibly spare on the nicest house available for our budget. Sometimes we even go over our budget and get ourselves in trouble. The same goes for if we need to get from one place to another; we usually do it in the most expensive car that we can possibly afford. If we want a fun evening, we buy tickets for a concert, a play, a movie, a nice restaurant, and an overpriced coffee as we sit and talk about helping the world. If we have kids, we decorate a room in expectation of their arrival, buy them plenty of clothes, toys and other sorts of unnecessities.
We really pamper ourselves.
Jesus taught, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength' and 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."
It would take a lot of time, energy, and resources to love others as much as we love ourselves because we really do love ourselves. We spend most of our time focused on how to love ourselves better. How can we get that new car, that new house, that next trip, or even smaller things like my next meal, more stylish clothes, or the coolest gadget. We describe our selfishness as personality and style. Our selfishness becomes who we are. Sometimes it broadens from just being selfish about ourselves to being selfish about our family, but it is still focused on how do we make ourselves feel good. I have failed to mentioned the most twisted form of selfishness, which is wallowing on how unhappy we are.
All of this selfishness hardly leaves us with any time or resources to actually be loving to those in need, whether they are next door, across town, or around the world. To reach the point where we are willing to sacrificially to do that, we have to start with a transformed heart. This comes from surrendering our life to God. Giving our will over to God isn't a one time event and we're done with it. We will have to do it over and over again, every day. Selfishness is like a snake that will keep creeping up and slowly take our life away until we are wrapped up in meaningless busyness.
Jesus is great example of what it means to be selfless. He was focused on getting humanity out of the predicament they were in rather than being focused on finding another moment of pleasure for himself. He did not answer our situation by saying, "They got themselves in that situation; they should get themselves out of it." He saw our need, loved us like he would love himself, and brought us out of our need. We need to do the same for others. Shane Claiborne, in his book Irresistible Revolution, wrote, "Redistribution is what happens when people fall in love with each other across class lines."
Let us be like Christ and fall in love with the rest of humanity.
"If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen" (1 John 4:20).
"What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead" (James 2:14-17).